Posted by Brendon Lynch
Chief Privacy Officer, Microsoft

Technologies and services that track, analyze and share individuals’ movements have proliferated in recent years. With more and more people connecting to the Internet through mobile devices, and with location based services surging in popularity, new concerns are emerging about how individuals’ movements are tracked and analyzed.

In recognition of Data Privacy Day on Jan. 28, Microsoft is releasing new research on consumer awareness of location based services and their privacy implications. We commissioned a survey of 1,500 people in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and Germany to evaluate consumers’ understanding and use of location based services. We found that respondents expressed strong concerns about privacy and how location-based data is compiled and used:

• Eighty-four percent of respondents are concerned about sharing of their location data without their consent; 84 percent are concerned about identity theft or data theft; 83 percent are concerned about loss of privacy.

• Forty-nine percent would be more comfortable with location based services if they could easily and clearly manage who sees their location information.

The key takeaway is that while people see the benefits of location based services, they are concerned about their privacy and are eager for greater transparency and control over how their location information is shared.

Toward that end, today we are sharing a few simple guidelines to consumers to help them enhance privacy while using location based services. While location based services aren't particularly dangerous on their own, consumers need to think about the layers of information they leave online. As people use more online services, it becomes easier for others to connect the dots concerning their activities.

• Pay close attention to the location privacy settings on phones, social networking sites and online applications.

• Don't “check in” on location-based social networking sites from home, and don’t include GPS coordinates in tweets, blogs or social networking accounts.

• Limit who you add to your social network location services, and do not make your location data publicly available or searchable.

• Don't geo-tag photos of your house or your children. In fact, it's best to disable geo-tagging until you specifically need it.

• Only trusted friends should know your location. If you have contacts you don't fully know or trust, it's time to do a purge.

A few other things we learned about the use of location based services:

• Fifty-one percent of respondents have used a location based service.

• Among respondents who have used location based services, 94 percent consider them valuable.

• Younger respondents and those who spend more per month for their phone service are more likely to be familiar with location based services.

• From an international perspective, Japan and the U.S rank first and second, respectively, in usage for nearly all location based services.

• Adoption of location based services is driven primarily by young men aged 18 to 34 – regardless of geography.

These results demonstrate enormous potential for location based services, particularly when people can take advantage of their value without sacrificing privacy. At Microsoft, our privacy standards govern the development and deployment of our location based services. These standards include customer notification and consent procedures, providing strong data security features, and user-friendly privacy controls.

More information on this research can be found on the Microsoft Data Privacy Day website. We are also hosting a Churchill Club panel discussion tonight in San Francisco where industry executives, consumer advocates, academics and government officials will discuss the topic in greater detail.

Inside the company, Microsoft locations around the world are commemorating Data Privacy Day with internal events designed to rally our own teams to learn more about privacy and to take action to ensure that privacy remains a fundamental priority to our business. The company’s commitment extends well beyond a single day, however, and includes building privacy into our products and features (privacy by design), partnering with privacy advocates and the industry, and providing privacy and safety guidance to consumers.

With more control over their privacy, consumers will feel more comfortable enjoying the benefits of location based services. In the technology community, we need to continue to educate consumers on the online privacy implications of sharing information online and build better controls into our products and services. It’s essential that there be an open dialogue about this subject to keep location based services and privacy headed in the right direction.

For more information on Data Privacy Day, read this feature story on the Microsoft News Center.